Bismarck’s football team may have been absent from the AAA state championship game for the first time in eight seasons, but the Demons showed up with bells on for the postseason awards.
Five Demons earned berths on the all-state first team selected by AAA coaches and two more were named to the second team. Bismarck led all schools with its five first-team choices.
Century and Mandan players earned some laurels, as well. Century secured two first-team and two second-team berths and three Mandan players made the second team.
Bismarck placed quarterback Hayden Gibson, tailback Jaxon Ford, offensive lineman Luke Keller, defensive lineman Brayden Thomas and linebacker Alex Seibel on the first team.
Offensive lineman Sam Neubauer and linebacker Coleton Ford were selected for the second team.
Ford and Thomas, both juniors, are the only BHS underclassmen chosen.
Quarterback Chris Kraft and defensive back Cyril Nagurski were Century’s first-team honorees. Linebacker Joel Crane and two-way linemen C.J. Mitzel earned spots on the second team. Mitzel, a junior, is the only CHS underclassman selected.
Cam Christopherson, Nick Miller and Jarad Zittleman were Mandan’s second-team representatives. Christopherson is a senior. The other two are juniors.
The centerpiece of the team is senior running back James Johannesson of Fargo South. Johannesson, who was recruited by the University of Minnesota, rushed for 2,072 yards and 32 touchdowns. He was named the top AAA senior athlete.
Bismarck coach Mark Gibson said Hayden Gibson, Keller, Seibel and Neubauer were known commodities. Thomas, Jaxon Ford and Coleton Ford were first-year starters, however.
“Hayden was on the second team last year, Luke Keller was one of our top linemen coming in this year and Alex Seibel was the leader of the defense. We were expecting some big things from those three,” coach Gibson said.
Keller and Neubauer were key components of an offensive line that paved the way for 2,274 rushing yards, but bulk of it by Jaxon Ford.
Gibson said Thomas, converted from a tailback-linebacker this season, helped fill a void in the defensive line.
“Those three (underclassmen Thomas, Lucas Butts and Justin Bergquist) did a great job of filling in for (Thomas) Sease and (Stanley) Jones in the defensive line,” the coach said.
Jones and Sease graduated after earning all-state honors in 2013.
“He knew we needed help in the defensive line and (Thomas) moved down willingly,” coach Gibson said.
Both of the Ford brothers started the season as promising but uncertain products and finished as all-state players.
“Coleton Ford was a kid who didn’t start last year and he became our leading tackler as the season went on. He had an outstanding season for us,” coach GIbson said.
The intent at the start of the season was to have Jaxon Ford sharing tailback duties, but he quickly became the featured running back.
“We didn’t know if Jaxon (5-9, 165) would be durable enough ... but he proved us wrong,” coach Gibson said.
Ford ran for 1,390 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Coach Gibson said his son, Hayden, provided a strong aerial component in the offense and was a cool and calm presence on the field.
“I knew there was never anything that would rattle him,” the coach said. “If you know your quarterback is reliable it’s something that goes a long way.”
Hayden Gibson threw for 1,207 yards and 20 touchdowns and was intercepted only three times in 158 attempts.
“There were four games where he didn’t throw a pass in the second half. His biggest asset is his ability to throw the ball ... but he never complained about it,” coach Gibson said.
Century coach Ron Wingenbach had an idea that Kraft, a third-year starter, had all-state potential, but he thought it would be at linebacker.
When quarterback Dalton Feeney was felled by a season-ending foot injury in the second game, Kraft became the quarterback. Kraft had some spectacular games, both as a runner and passer and led the West Region in total offense with 2,124 yards.
“We had hopes for (Kraft) on the defensive side ... but when we moved him to quarterback it limited his defensive time,” Wingenbach said.
“We got his running back skills in addition to his throwing skills and his leadership skills all combined in one package,” Wingenbach added.
Like Kraft, Nagurski was a returning starter, and Wingenbach utilized him to the max. Nagurski was named to the all-state team as a defensive back, but he contributed in multiple areas. He was third in the West Region in receiving yardage (404) and also handled Century’s punting and, as the season wore on, the placekicking. He also returned punts and kickoffs.
“He had a hand in a lot of different plays in a lot of different ways,” Wingenbach said.
The status of Mitzel and Crane was uncertain when the season began. Crane was making the adjustment to a new position after moving from linebacker to defensive back . Mitzel, a transfer from Devils Lake, was 295 pounds of imposing but untested potential.
“Crane went from linebacker to defensive back at the beginning of the season. We were very, very pleased with his progress,” Wingenbach s aid.
Mitzel, a lineman, ended up playing a lot more than had originally been anticipated.
“We were probably looking more on the offensive side, rather than defense, but as it turned out we needed him on both sides of the ball,” Wingenbach said. “... One thing that pleased us was his durability. We look forward to big things from him next year.”
Mandan coach Todd Sheldon said he felt Miller and Christopherson were solid all-state candidates before the season began.
“I thought athletically Nick Miller was good enough to be an all-state performer,” Sheldon said. “... Cameron Christopherson is a returning all-stater. He was second-team all-state last year.”
Miller was the No. 4 rusher in the region with 611 yards and adapted well to a switch from free safety to defensive end on defense.
“The move made a huge difference in his productivity on the defensive side of the ball,” Sheldon said. “... It was really a big change for him and he was in much better position for him to be successful.”
Sheldon said Christopherson was outstanding on both sides of the ball as a safety and running back, even though he had to fight through a dislocated ankle.
“He’s a great kid to coach. He wants to be on the field so badly and when he’s on the field it’s nothing but 100 percent,” Sheldon said. “He’s not going to dog it, not even in a single rep in practice.”
Sheldon said Zittleman, like Miller and Christopherson, contributed on both sides of the ball.
“We put him up for all-state as a defensive back. He ended up with almost 60 tackles and had an interception. He played pass coverage and was really good in run support and returning punts. He set himself up early on as a sure tackler and someone who would be physical coming up and making plays,” Sheldon said. “And he ended up with 12 receptions for 135 yards, as well, so he didn’t have a bad year as a receiver, either.”
Bismarck lost to Minot in the playoff semifinals and Century was ousted in the quarterfinals by Fargo South. Mandan, 2-6, failed to make the playoffs.
Six 2013 all-state players returned to the first team. They were Ben Bolinske and Zach Danelson of state runner-up Minot, Johannesson and Ty Brooks of Fargo South, Gunnar Kollman of state champion Fargo Davies and Sam Olsen of West Fargo.
Aidan Hartness and Tristan Hartness of Davies, Gibson, and Zach Larson and Zach Mohs of West Fargo moved up from the second team to the first.
Christopherson was a second-team pick for the second year in a row.
The all-state team.
Quarterbacks: Aidan Hartness, 6-3, 197, sr., Fargo Davies. Hayden Gibson, 6-3, 220, sr., Bismarck. Chris Kraft, 6-1, 210, sr., Century. Ben Bolinske, 5-11, 171, jr., Minot.
Running backs: James Johannesson, 6-2, 215, sr., Fargo South. Jaxon Ford,5-9, 165, jr., Bismarck.
Wide receivers: Austin Reynolds, 6-1, 200, sr., G.F. Red River. Tristan Hartness, 6-3, 187, sr., Fargo Davies.
Tight end: Brayden Lund, 6-3, 237, jr., Minot.
Line: Logan Steen, 6-5, 290, sr., G.F. Red River. Hunter Hanson, 6-6, 290, sr., Fargo South. Gunnar Kollman, 6-0, 245, sr., Fargo Davies. Zach Mohs, 6-1, 265, sr., West Fargo. Luke Keller, 6-3, 200, sr., Bismarck.
Line: Alexander Talley, 5-11, 215, jr., West Fargo. Brayden Thomas, 6-3, 210, jr., Bismarck.
Linebackers: Zak Kuntz, 6-1, 215, jr., G.F. Red River. Zach Larson, 5-10, 190, sr., West Fargo. Sam Olson, 5-11, 200, sr., West Fargo. Zach Danelson, 5-10, 207, sr., Minot. Alex Seibel, 5-8, 190, sr., Bismarck.
Secondary: Ty Brooks, 5-10, 170, sr., Fargo South. Alex Mack, 5-10, 195, sr., Minot. Ben Twist, 6-0, 155, sr., Dickinson. Cyril Nagurski, 6-2, 195, sr., Century.
Bismarck — Sam Neubauer, 6-0, 240, sr.; Coleton Ford, 5-11, 180, sr. Century — Joel Crane, 5-10, 180, sr.; C.J. Mitzel, 6-2, 295, jr. Devils Lake — Jordan Swanson, 5-11, 170, sr. Dickinson — Carter Blackwell, 6-3, 170, sr.; Riley Schmaltz, 5-10, 210, sr.; Drew Heiser, 6-1, 250, jr. Fargo Davies — Ty Jochim, 5-11, 185, jr.; Jacob West, 5-9, 245, jr.; J.D. Arguelles, 5-10, 165, jr.; Rylan Drake, 5-9, 170, sr. Fargo North — Michael Boutain, 6-0, 165, sr.; Willy Roman, 5-10, 140, sr. Fargo South — Cale Dunwoody, 6-2, 205, jr. G.F. Red River — Derek Murph, 5-10, 180, jr.; Braedan Hanson, 6-6, 185, jr. Jamestown — Ross Monson, 6-1. 180, sr., Mandan — Nick Miller, 6-3, 200, jr.; Cameron Christopherson, 5-10, 180, sr.; Jarad Zittleman, 5-10, 165, jr. Minot — Karter Gorney, 6-0, 177, sr.; Garrett Picard, 5-11, 187, sr. West Fargo — Isaiah Helland-Davis, 5-8, 170, sr.; Brady Heisler, 5-11, 165, sr. W.F. Sheyenne — Hayden Reynolds, 6-2, 190, soph.